The Canucks couldn’t stay out of the penalty box and the relentless Jets took full advantage

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A break before the break.

That’s what the Vancouver Canucks were hoping to take advantage of Wednesday.

They got an injection of skill and will when injured centre Bo Horvat returned after being struck in the left foot Monday by an Alex Edler point shot. It fuelled fears of a fracture as the captain collapsed in agony and didn’t return.

It wasn’t a stretch to suggest after injury imaging Tuesday morning showed no break, that he was still playing through a level of significant pain in a disheartening 5-1 loss to the Winnipeg Jets at Rogers Arena.

What hurt more was his club coughing up a pair of second period power play goals off successive penalties for too many men on the ice in a frame where they had 20 of their 39 shots. It overshadowed what could have been a good story about Horvat’s resolve to lead by example.

“We played some pretty good hockey and took those two penalties that should never happen on our part and they capitalize,” said Horvat, who won 64 per cent of his draws in tough matchups. “It’s either miscommunication or guys thinking they have other guys and it’s just one of those mixed up things. We have to be sharper on the bench.

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“I thought for the majority of the game we carried the play and did some really good things and hit posts, so it’s frustrating to lose that one.”

As for his injury, Horvat knew he dodged a bullet Monday.

“You’re going to take shots and get bumps and bruises, but luckily nothing was broken,” he said. “It was just a bone bruise and I felt like I could try to help the team win.”

The loss aside, that kind of moxie isn’t lost on the coach.

“Part of leadership is playing when you’re banged up or hurt,” said Travis Green. “Teammates see that. Some guys have a higher tolerance to pain than others. Bo is a big, strong guy and built for taking more of a beating. He’s a driven player.

“There’s a reason why you give a guy a ‘C’. There are certain expectations that captains have.”

Horvat’s return solved one riddle in the middle, but Brandon Sutter didn’t play after taking the morning skate and missed his second-straight game. He joined the ailing Elias Pettersson and Jay Beagle as absent centres and his lineup spot was taken by Tyler Graovac.

However, the Canucks couldn’t stay out of the penalty box and the relentless Jets took full advantage.

Here’s what we learned as the Canucks enter their six-day break with a 16-18-3 record:


Winnipeg Jets forward Andrew Copp (9) scores a goal on Vancouver Canucks goalie Thatcher Demko (35) in the second period at Rogers Arena.
Winnipeg Jets forward Andrew Copp (9) scores a goal on Vancouver Canucks goalie Thatcher Demko (35) in the second period at Rogers Arena. Photo by Bob Frid /USA TODAY Sports

THE DOUBLE WHAMMY

The Canucks lead the NHL in penalties. Edler had the third most infractions heading in Monday’s meeting and Tyler Myers was tied for fourth. And the Canucks have been assessed eight bench infractions this season for too many men on the ice, second most in the league.

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These are not good trends for any club with playoff aspirations.

What turned a scoreless, playoff-style tussle — complete with a first-period bout between heavyweights Zack MacEwen and Logan Stanley — into a momentum-zapping sequence was a pair of major brain cramps.

After the Canucks had mounted early pressure in the second period with Jimmy Vesey, Brock Boeser and Jake Virtanen denied, the first too-many-men call resulted in the first of four goals by Andrew Copp. On his first power play strike, he deftly deflected a point shot down and to the stick side of Thatcher Demko. On his second man-advantage goal, he banged home a rebound.

The bench penalties proved a back-breaker.

“I didn’t like the penalties for too many men and didn’t like our penalty kill and that was probably the difference in the game,” said Green. “The first one, we got a couple of defencemen trying to get off the ice and we’ve got to get that puck in, especially with the long change. And the second was just a bad change with a young guy (Virtanen) jumping on the ice early and at a time when a guy didn’t really need to come to the bench.”

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And even though Boeser was then denied by Connor Hellebuyck with a right-pad save, the Jets came right back to benefit from another self-inflicted wound.

When the Canucks couldn’t cleanly exit their zone, a cycle ended with Mark Scheifele banging home a loose puck. It was telling because in the third period, Virtanen would hit the post on a break and J.T. Miller couldn’t connect.

“Later in the year, they (loses) do tend to sting a little bit, especially when you play well and our game tonight was better than last game (Monday),” added Green. “Does it sting a bit? Yeah. And it should. That’s why we play the games, because they matter.”


Vancouver Canucks goalie Thatcher Demko (35) makes a save on Winnipeg Jets forward Mathieu Perreault (85) in the first period at Rogers Arena.
Vancouver Canucks goalie Thatcher Demko (35) makes a save on Winnipeg Jets forward Mathieu Perreault (85) in the first period at Rogers Arena. Photo by Bob Frid /USA TODAY Sports

DEMKO STRONG EARLY

Demko was showing the ability to rebound from a 4-0 loss to the Jets on Wednesday. It was another indication of his continuing maturation and rising stature as the starter. Being able to process a loss, study video and put pointers into practise is harder than it sounds.

The Jets tried to get to him in every possible way and it was evident early that he was doing everything possible to try to get in their heads in the opening period. He flashed his left pad out to thwart a Mathieu Perreault backhander from the top of the crease and did the same when Nikolaj Ehlers unloaded from the top of the slot and tried to pick the corner.

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It was going to take something special to beat Demko. It finally came in the second period.

Demko left Kyle Connor shaking his head when thwarted with a glove save off a cross-ice feed to start the power play before Copp opened scoring.

“I thought we did some good things and that’s something we can reflect upon,” said Demko. “Take the positives from it and try to build on it.”


Winnipeg Jets goalie Connor Hellebuyck (37) defends the goal against Vancouver Canucks forward Jimmy Vesey (24) in the second period at Rogers Arena.
Winnipeg Jets goalie Connor Hellebuyck (37) defends the goal against Vancouver Canucks forward Jimmy Vesey (24) in the second period at Rogers Arena. Photo by Bob Frid /USA TODAY Sports

VESEY GETTING DOWN

The early returns on waiver-wire claim Vesey are encouraging.

He skates well in logging major minutes, is responsible with good puck-management instincts, has a quick release and doesn’t look out of place on the first power play unit. He has also killed penalties with Miller.

Vesey was averaging 11:14 of ice time as a bottom-six option for the Toronto Maple Leafs and logged 18:13, 18:59, 19:47 in his first three games here, including 2:53 of power play time. At the down-low position in those mosh-pits, he has to recover pucks, set screens and tips for the league’s 17th-ranked PP and also be effective at even strength.

“Being able to play below the dots is huge and it’s something I’ve been working on,” said Vesey.

The work showed Monday.

Early in the second period, he went hard to the net to set a screen, had two whacks at a loose puck at top of the crease and while falling to the ice was denied on a backhand.

MORE COVID-19 CAUTION

Whistler isn’t far away. Either is Vancouver Island or the Okanagan.

With a six-day break to soothe body and mind, and the temptation to get away from it all, the Canucks don’t need many reminders to practise COVID-19 safety protocols.

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They were in Montreal on Thursday, Friday and Saturday before two members of the Canadiens were added to the league’s COVID-19 precautionary list and their next four games were postponed. In B.C., provincial health officials reported 716 new cases Wednesday and community spread from indoor group gatherings continues to drive a rising spike. Add the Montreal mess and it should hit home.

“It can be used as a reminder for sure,” said Green. “It’s in society right now, and not just the NHL, and it’s affecting everyone’s lives and hopefully it doesn’t slow down the league too much.”

Added Nate Schmidt: “It (virus) is a little bit of a ghost. You don’t know where and when you could get it.”

Canucks defenceman Jordie Benn didn’t practise Jan. 11 at Rogers Arena, a day after the club cancelled on and off-ice training camp sessions, because of an abundance of caution due to potential COVID-19 exposure.

Benn had tested positive after a false positive and was then declared a presumed positive. Miller was a high-risk close contact and also had to quarantine.

OVERTIME —Travis Boyd is in the league’s mandatory seven-day COVID-19 protocol after flying from Toronto to Vancouver on Tuesday. The winger could be a roster option when the Canucks resume play March 31 here against Calgary.

bkuzma@postmedia.com
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NEXT GAME

Wednesday

Calgary Flames at Vancouver Canucks

7:30 p.m., Rogers Arena. TV: SNP. Radio: Sportsnet 650 AM

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